Biometrics: Possible Problems with Biometric Systems

(applications of biometrics; problems and "smart passports")

Potential Problems with Biometric Systems

One of the most crucial factors in the success of a biometric system is user acceptance of the device. It must cause no discomfort or concern for the user.

If people are afraid to use the device, they probably will not use it properly, which may result in users not being granted access.

The biometric device must work correctly. When it functions properly, it does two things: it keeps unauthorized people out and lets authorized people in.

No device is perfect. In the biometric world, the probability of letting the wrong person in and right person out, is characterized by the “false accept” and the “false reject” error rates.

This contrast and the frustration of dealing with a high number of false rejects will have authorized users and management alike looking for a way to replace the biometric system with something else if these factors are not considered up front.

"Smart" Passports for U.S. Citizens

The U.S. governments plans to issue “smart” passports, featuring embedded microchips that store a compressed image of the owner’s face, to U.S. citizens in October, 2004.

Designed to prevent tampering, the digital passports will include cryptographically signed digital images to guarantee their authenticity.

Although civil liberties groups have expressed concerns about the government using the new passports as a monitoring tool, Frank Moss, deputy assistant secretary for Passport Services at the U.S. Department of State, maintains that information will only be forwarded to centralized databases if there is a query over the authenticity of a passport. What is more, Moss says the passports will only include basic passport information.

Some technical experts have also warned that smart passports do not guarantee safety, adding that the new passports will only help to identify known suspects or people who have forged passports.

Richard Clayton, a hardware security expert at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, adds that everyone involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks had a photo ID.

Meanwhile, the European Union plans to spend 140 million euros to develop an interoperable biometric system, which would enable passports to carry fingerprints and iris scan biometric data.

Such biometric information would be much easier to cross-reference than photographs of an individual with different hair styles and facial hair.

More topics in the Biometrics: Index.

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